#38 – Farming yesterday

Old corn mower, Wiltshire, UK. [Alamy image ref. AMM00P]

When I lived for a decade at the foot of the northern escarpment of Wiltshire’s desolate Salisbury Plain, there was not a week when I didn’t venture out across the minor roads crossing that expanse of mixed farmland and Army firing ranges.

There were large areas of a geological ground type known as “Greensand” in the locality which created specific problems for farmers. The green color of greensand is due to variable amounts of the mineral glauconite, an iron potassium silicate with very low weathering resistance; as a result, greensand tends to be weak and friable. It is a common ingredient as a source of potassium in organic gardening and farming fertilizers. The greensand found at the foot of Salisbury Plain is also very soft… which means that although farmers have a rich source of soil for their crops, it is difficult to harvest them because of the weight of modern harvesting machinery. As a result there were many small farms from the area roughly from West Lavington (just south of Devizes) through to, and beyond, Pewsey and Hungerford where it was quite normal to see traditional corn stooks in the fields at harvest time. Local farmers used traditional lightweight machinery to cut, bind and dry their crops for later threshing, rather than trying to drive a modern combine-harvester on the land at the risk of one sinking to it’s axles in the earth.

This image was licensed for three years for a half-page reproduction in an English “crafts” book with a 25,000 print-run under my “Farming Today” pseudonym.

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